While there may not be any truth to the rumor that the Izard County Tournament is on the verge of being renamed the Melbourne Invitational, one thing that is undisputed fact is the Bearkatz' sixth consecutive county tourney title was not merely handed to them; rather they fought tooth-and-nail for it.
The Bearkatz used some clutch free throws in the final period to stave off an impressive effort from the Mammoth Spring Bears, as Melbourne made it six Izard County Tournament titles in a row with a 64-55 win Jan. 31 at Harold Ray Jeffery Gymnasium in Calico Rock.
Already holding two wins in conference play over the Bears going into the tourney finals, the Bearkatz (31-1) knew that Mammoth Spring (20-9) was up for the fight.
They were right, as the Bears' Seth Risner continued his recent streak of lights-out shooting behind the 3-point arc, gunning seven treys on the night on his way to game-high honors with 26 big points.
These were not mere treys that Risner canned from seemingly anywhere on the court, these shots were drilled a good 10 feet beyond the 3-point arc, forcing the Berakatz to extend their perimeter defense more they normally like to do.
"He (Risner) had a great night," Melbourne Head Coach Mike Watson said. "About the only thing you can do when a guy is shooting like that is just get a hand in his face and try to contest the shot. We just wanted to limit him to one shot a possession."
As has been the case in most of their 31 victories on the year, Melbourne jumped out to an early lead, 13-5, late in the first period.
Levi Taylor (19 points) accounted for six of Melbourne's points during this stretch, battling with Mammoth Spring's Wes Whiteside for ownership of the low block.
Mammoth Spring fought back as Risner nailed back-to-back triples to end the first with Melbourne holding a 13-11 lead.
Opening the second period with four points from Whiteside (12 points), the Bears tied the game at 15-all, before moving in front on a 3-ball by Derick Baldridge.
Melbourne quickly regained control as Jordan Davidson got on track with his first points of the contest.
Davidson (18 points) started a 9-zip run with a 3-pointer that helped the Bearkatz move back in front 28-22.
Not giving up, the Bears went on a mini-run of their own before the break, capped by an NBA 3 from Risner that saw Melbourne clinging to a 30-29 lead at halftime.
Melbourne held serve in the third period, as Davidson matched Risner in the frame, with each one popping a pair of treys.
Taylor continued his work in the paint, turning an offensive rebound into a traditional 3-point play at the end of the period to keep Melbourne on top, 50-44, after three.
Mammoth Spring opened the fourth with three straight points, before Melbourne's Nick Davidson (14 points) stopped the Bear run with his first long-distance bomb of the evening.
Davidson's next hoop, at the 5:16 point of the fourth, proved to be Melbourne's last field goal of the evening, with the Bearkatz up 55-49, but they were steady from the charity stripe as they held off the Bears.
Hitting nine-of-10 from the free throw line in the fourth, the Bearkatz logged their third win over Mammoth Spring this season, in the process winning the 2004 Izard County Tournament title.
Cody Moser and Andy Miller tallied six points each for Melbourne, while Hunter Caraway added a point.
Brandon Myers finished with eight for Mammoth Spring, Adam Brown added four, and Matt Harrell two.